Best Airline Credit Cards of 2020

Enjoy stronger rewards on flights by choosing the right card for your travel needs.

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There’s an airline credit card out there for every type of traveler. To help you determine which one is the right fit for you, we assembled our top picks. Compare cards based on your specific travel needs, learn more about how airline cards work and comb through expert advice.

Best airline credit cards

Best for airline rewards and transferable airline points: The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express

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Amex is consistently one of the best options for flight rewards. Though it comes with a $550 annual fee, you’ll earn stellar points on flights booked directly with airlines or through American Express Travel (see rates & fees).

Annual fee$550
Purchase APRN/A
Foreign transaction feeNone
Welcome offer60,000 points after spending $5,000 in your first 3 months
Rewards5x points on directly-booked flights or on flights and hotels on Amex Travel. 1x points on all other purchases
Rates & feesrates & fees
Pros
  • Rewards. Earn 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and on prepaid hotels booked on American Express Travel. All other purchases earn 1x points.
  • Welcome offer. Earn 60,000 rewards points after you make $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Travel perks. Get an annual airline fee credit, annual Uber credits, TSA PreCheck/Global Entry application fee credit, airport lounge access.
Cons
  • Annual fee. You’ll pay $550 annually to use this card.

Find out more ways to transfer airline miles between programs

Best for United: United℠ Explorer Card

United℠ Explorer Card

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The United℠ Explorer Card offers more bang for your buck versus other mid-tier airline cards. Besides United perks — which include two United Club one-time passes each card year — you’ll also get a $100 credit for your TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application every four years.

Annual fee$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Purchase APR17.99% to 24.99% variable
Foreign transaction feeNone
Welcome offer60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
Rewards2x miles at restaurants, hotels and United and 1x miles on all other purchases
Rates & feesrates & fees
Pros
  • Signup bonus. Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you make $3,000 in purchases with your card within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Rewards. Earn 2x miles on United purchases, eligible hotel stays and restaurant spending. Earn 1x miles on all other purchases.
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit. Get up to $100 credit once every for years to cover for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee.
Cons
  • Earning restrictions. You may not earn your 2x miles when you purchase tickets through third party flights.

Compare United Airlines credit cards

Best for Delta: Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express

Please note: All information about Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express has been collected independently by Finder and this card is no longer available through this site.
Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express

This card is tailored to the Delta loyalist because it comes with perks like a companion certificate, Delta SkyClub access and a miles boost to quickly reach Medallion status and earn reward flights.

Annual fee$450
Purchase APR17.24% to 26.24% variable
Foreign transaction feeNone
Welcome offer40,000 miles and 10,000 MQMs after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
Rewards2x miles on direct Delta purchases and 1x miles on all other purchases
Rates & feesrates & fees
Pros
  • Welcome offer. Earn 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you make $3,000 in eligible purchases with your card within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Rewards. Earn 2x miles on Delta purchases and 1x miles on other eligible purchases.
  • Delta SkyClub access. Get complimentary access to all Delta Sky Clubs, which otherwise costs $59 for a single visit. If you visit Delta Sky Clubs once a month, that’s $708 savings per year. In addition, get discounted access for $29 for up to two guests.
Cons
  • Annual fee. You’ll pay $450 annually to use this card.

Compare all Delta credit cards

Best for Southwest: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

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This is the highest-priced Southwest credit card, but you can offset the annual fee with the yearly $75 travel credit and the 7,500 anniversary points you get each year (valued around $75). You can also find great value from the priority boarding and the generous welcome offer.

Annual fee$149
Purchase APR17.49% to 24.49% variable
Foreign transaction feeNone
Welcome offer40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. Plus, earn 35,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first 6 months.
Rewards2x points on Southwest and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rentals and 1x points on all other purchases
Rates & feesrates & fees
Pros
  • Signup bonus. Earn 40,000 points after you make $1,000 in purchases with your card within the first 3 months of account opening.Plus, you’ll earn an additional 35,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first 6 months.
  • Rewards. Earn 2x points on Southwest Airlines purchases and spending with hotel and car rental partners. Earn 1x points on all other purchases.
  • Southwest Airlines perks. Get four Upgraded Boarding passes each year, $75 annual travel credit and 7,500 bonus Southwest points each card anniversary.
Cons
  • Annual fee. You’ll pay $149 annually to use this card.

Compare Southwest Airlines credit cards

Best for American Airlines: Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

If you often fly American Airlines and you want a card with the highest value, consider this one. It offers a generous signup bonus, first checked bag free, preferred boarding and a $125 flight discount once you meet the spend criteria.

Annual fee$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($99 thereafter)
Purchase APR17.49% to 25.49% variable
Foreign transaction feeNone
Welcome offer50,000 miles after spending $2,500 in the first 3 months
Rewards2x miles on American Airlines, dining, and gas and 1x miles on all other purchases
Pros
  • Signup bonus. Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after you make $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Rewards. Earn 2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, on gas and restaurant purchases. Earn 1x miles on all other purchases.
  • American Airlines perks. Get first checked bag free and preferred boarding on American Airlines itineraries, plus 25% savings on eligible in-flight food and beverage purchases, and a $125 flight discount when you spend $20,000 or more in a cardmembership year.
Cons
  • Taxes and fees. You’re on the hook for $30 per person in taxes and fees for your flight.

Compare American Airlines credit cards

Methodology

We looked at a variety of factors consumers might consider when selecting an airline rewards credit card, including the particular airline, earning rates, possible rewards, redemption values and additional perks or benefits associated with traveling. Those cards that stood out above the rest in a particular category, or served a specific niche, were chosen for our list.

What’s changed in 2020

With so many great airline credit cards to choose from, we decided to highlight the respective branded cards this year that provided the right mix of value versus the annual fee. Notable this year is the United℠ Explorer Card, which offers a terrific value versus other mid-tier airline cards.

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  • Why trust us? We spend hundreds of hours each week reading and writing about the latest in credit card news. We know whether a card is a must have, great for a specific kind of consumer or one that just doesn’t make the cut. It’s not always easy to pick the right card – especially a type as varied as airline cards – so want to share our knowledge and help consumers find the best card for their needs. Our strict editorial guidelines ensure that our content is unbiased, accurate and best serves the needs of the reader.

Our pick for a card with airline credits

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

  • Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you use your new card to make $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card within your first 3 months.
  • Earn 2 miles on every eligible dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta.
  • Earn 1 mile for every eligible dollar spent on purchases.
  • Check your first bag free on Delta flights – that’s a savings of up to $240 for a family of 4 roundtrip.
  • Receive Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding on Delta flights, stow your carry-on bag and settle in sooner.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms apply.
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See Rates & Fees

Compare cards by airline

American Airlines logo Delta logo Southwest-Logo united-airlines-Logo

Compare airline credit cards

Many airlines offer cobranded credit cards with airline-specific perks. If you fly with different carriers, you might like a general travel card instead.

Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months, plus $50 when you make a Delta purchase in the same timeframe
2x miles on Delta purchases and 1x miles on all other purchases
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months, plus $50 when you make a direct Delta purchase in the same timeframe. Rates & fees
United℠ Explorer Card
60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
2x miles at restaurants, hotels and United and 1x miles on all other purchases
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
CardMatch™ from creditcards.com
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Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. Plus, earn 35,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first 6 months.
2x points on Southwest and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rentals and 1x points on all other purchases
$149
Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of account opening. Plus, earn 35,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 6 months your account is open.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
$95
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

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Let’s break down how airline credit cards work

An airline credit card typically offers rewards for airline purchases, usually in the form of airline miles. You can redeem these miles on flights or other related purchases, such as seat upgrades.

Airline cards tend to come in two varieties: cobranded cards that are associated with a specific airline, and general airline cards. A cobranded card usually offers more perks or earning potential for that specific airline, which can play a significant role in how you pick an airline card.

1. Compare & apply for a card

Look at cobranded and general airline cards that fit your airline preferences and apply like normal.


2. Earn miles

Once you receive your card, use it on categories that earn you the most miles. Cobranded cards tend to reward the most miles for purchases made with that specific airline.


3. Redeem miles

Once you’ve earned enough miles for a flight, you can book one through your credit card account or the frequent flyer program associated with your credit card.

How to compare airline credit cards

Aside from the card’s APR, here are a few important features to compare when selecting an airline credit card:

Airline

If you prefer flying a certain airline, look for a cobranded card that offers rewards specific to that company. Otherwise, a general travel card can help you earn on all airlines.

Annual fee

Airline credit cards often feature annual fees to offset the various perks they offer.

Signup bonus

Many airline cards offer a mileage signup bonus when you spend within the set requirements. This bonus can easily pay for a roundtrip flight, depending on your destination and class.

Earning categories

Cobranded cards tend to earn the most miles on purchases associated with that airline. If you plan on using your card for day-to-day purchases, consider a card that earns miles on those purchases.

Perks

Both types of travel cards can offer a variety of perks, including free breakfast, upgraded rooms, statement credits or concierge service access.

Foreign transaction fees

Many airline cards forgo foreign transaction fees, though that’s not a guarantee. Make sure to check if you plan on using your card abroad.

When is an airline credit card worth it?

An airline credit card is worth a spot in your pocket if you travel frequently enough to take advantage of the perks and rewards. In most cases, the question is whether you’ll be able to overcome the card’s annual fee, should it have one, and whether you spend enough in a card’s best categories to make it worth it.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, for example, requires a $149 annual fee for use. Meeting the card’s welcome offer within the first three months will make up for that fee and more, but you’ll need to spend enough on eligible categories the following year to earn enough miles to overtake the annual fee.

Southwest Rapid Rewards points are worth roughly 1.5 cents each. To make up for the annual fee, you’d need to earn roughly 10,000 miles. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card thankfully offers a 7,500 point annual anniversary bonus, meaning you’ll just need to spend enough to earn 2,500 points.

Purchases Cost Points earned
Southwest flights $800 1,600
Hotels $200 400
Other $500 500
Total $1,500 2,500

You asked, we listened: Top 5 common questions

With so many airline credit cards to choose from, it’s only natural to have some questions. Here are the 5 most common questions we receive on the subject.

  1. How much are credit card airline miles worth? The ultimate value of an airline milecan vary greatly depending on the specific loyalty program and how you redeem your miles.
  2. Can I get an airline credit card with bad credit? Most airline credit cards require a good or better credit score. However, you can still use another type of credit card for your airline purchases.
  3. What kinds of airline cards are there? Airline credit cards come in two varieties: cobranded, which are released under the umbrella of a specific airline, and general, which can be used on any airline.
  4. Do I need a frequent flyer number to use an airline card? Only if you’re using a cobranded credit card. These cards need to be linked to your frequent flyer number to generate miles and provide rewards.
  5. What’s the difference between airline credit cards and travel credit cards? Airline credit cards generate miles and offer rewards specifically for flights. Travel credit cards offer general “points” that can be used on airlines as well as other travel options, such as hotels and cruises.

Read more about airline credit cards

Sarah Barness

Sarah Barness
Credit Cards Editor

Hi, I’m Sarah! Since I often visit family that lives 3,000 miles away, having a great airline card in my wallet is a must. I look for cards without annual fees and simple rewards structures to earn points for my airline of choice. I love comparing airline cards to find the best options. Here are some articles that might answer the questions you have.

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Ask the experts

Jennifer Burton
  • Jennifer Burton
  • Assistant Professor of Marketing
  • Sykes College of Business

Eric Van Steenburg profile picture
  • Eric Van Steenburg
  • Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Marketing
  • Montana State University

Mark S. Rosenbaum profile picture
  • Mark S. Rosenbaum
  • Professor and Department Chair
  • University of South Carolina

Bottom line

If you want to earn flexible points or miles on flights, consider a general travel credit card. If you’re loyal to a certain airline, you might like a cobranded card.

Not sure if an airline card is right for you? Check out our guide to travel credit cards for more options.

Read more on this topic

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